A painful ruck, a great cause

Skyler Grathwohl and Alexandria Spezia truck up a hill during the Norwegian Ruck March on March 30. Ethan Hagstrom photo

For Alexandria Spezia, helping to organize one of the most intense events at Norwich University was a welcome challenge. Actually doing it was even better.

The Norwegian ruck march is a yearly fundraising tradition to raise money for the Wounded Veteran Retreat Program.
“I helped the organization this year and I was promoting something that I had never done before,” said Spezia, a 21-year-old junior, computer and electrical engineering major from Wyckoff; N.J.

Spezia felt like it was finally time for her to get out there and attempt the daunting ruck march. So on March 30, she joined with lots of cadets who embarked on a march totaling 18.6 miles, not to mention a distance also tallied in blisters and very tired feet and legs.

For those who don’t know, a ruck march involves carrying a pack with a certain amount of weight.. “The average weight for the army is 35 pounds, then they give you a distance, and you run, jog, walk or whatever to get to that distance,” explained Steve Rabbia, 19, a sophomore history major from New Hartford; N.Y.

The designed route for the event took the cadets towards the town of Roxbury down route 12A, past Roxbury, and back to campus.
“The founder created this ruck march for his son who lost both of his legs in Afghanistan,” Spezia said. “All this is for a great cause and it makes it worth it.”

Both civilians and corps are welcome to join for a $15 entrance fee, with all the proceeds destined to support the Wounded Veteran Retreat Program.

“I think it’s a good cause and it’s cool that the event is something physically and mentally challenging,” Rabbia said.
Going through a physically grueling event alone can prove to be quite the challenge. Most participants preferred to face the 18.6 miles-long adventure with a four-people team or less.

Spezia started with a group but, during the event, they got split up. She ended up staying with one team member the whole time, and the two of them endured together.

“I ran it with Skylar Grathwohl. I learned that day that Skylar has really long legs and that I would have to run to keep up with her,” laughed Spezia.

Rabbia faced the march shoulder-to-shoulder with his specialty unit. “I marched with the Norwich Artillery Battery Team, composed of Andrew Harris, Dryden Phelps, and Justin Doane,” Rabbia said.

Instead of doing the ruck with their friends or specialty units, some cadets saw it as a bonding opportunity between cadre and rooks. Both Bryant and Re’ Shun Gerald, 20, a junior communications major from Capital Heights; Md, are cadre for the rook platoon of 18-5-1 and decided to march with their recruits.

“I actually enjoyed it because it was a good bonding experience for those I was doing it with,” said Bryant. “I would definitely say we got a good amount of laughs in while going through the same amount of pain and experience. We all agreed it sucked, but it was worth the suck.”
Gerald’s group was composed of Milton Reddick, Jason Holcombe, and Christa Poulos, while Bryant’s team consisted of Shawn Wan, Brandon Vancosky, and Bryce Shivley.

“My (group) was very motivating, and I’m glad I got to do it with my recruits,” said Gerald. “I could have done it myself, but whenever I think about it, I think about those experiences and memories I made that day. My recruits will never forget their ruck march with their cadre staff.”
Another cadre, Megan Hand, 20, a junior nursing major from Victory, N.Y. was part of the group of females who finished first and was awarded a ruck frame and a plaque for being the fastest team.

Along with Nicole Hess, Maddy Day, and Bailee Grabowski, Hand’s group was the first female team to have all members complete the march.
“I felt a little more responsible to make sure [my rook] stayed motivated and finished,” said Hand proudly. Hand has completed the ruck march before but planning it with a group of people close to her made her go for a second time.

“You have someone to talk to, someone cheering you on, someone to help you along the way. It was just great to have them there,” said Hand.
Different reasons motivated people to take part in this extreme, physically demanding event.

“I personally felt like I had something to prove,” said Bailey Bryant, 21, a junior management major from Spanish Fort, Ala. “I’ve never rucked before, and my rooks were kind of talking (smack), saying I was Air Force and I kind of felt ‘hey, I can do this.’”

Bryant’s ruck march did not go as well as he had hoped, noting he finished but he did feel the pain afterward. “I was not prepared for this at all,” laughed Bryant. “I probably have stress fractures in my feet.”

Walking 18.6 miles is tough enough but adding a 25 pound weight on one’s back while running for hours, up and down tough terrain, really pushes the body to the limits of endurance.

“I probably won’t be doing this again. I was also sore for the past two days and it kind of went away slowly after regular exercise, but my feet still hurt,” Bryant said.

Walking miles up and down the hilly terrain of Vermont is an exhausting task, and even a regular ruck march is something most cadets dread. The standard army ruck march is 12 miles, while the Norwegian is approximately 7 miles more. These extra miles may seem small, however, they have a large impact.

Spezia said two friends had stress or bone fractures in their feet. “A lot of people actually got hurt on this thing. I saw one kid on the ruck march, just blood on the back of his boot from an open blister.”

Some participants also develop what are known as ruck burns, and the post-event recovery can take several days. “Ruck burns are just some scrapes from the frame of the ruck rubbing on you. It’s just really bad scraping and chafing,” Rabbia explained.

While most sane people would see this activity as some kind of punishment, participants say the cause is worth more than the pain.
Spezia is in the civic scholar’s program on campus, and she was looking for places to get involved on campus, when she stumbled on the ruck march and chose to volunteer for the program and march.

“I would recommend this for anyone. It’s for a great cause, and you need to challenge yourself every day to see how far your body can go,” Spezia said. “If you live your life without testing your limits, you’ll never know how far you can go.”

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